“The three most exciting sounds in the world: anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.” So said George Bailey, the protagonist of the classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life.

Nothing in life, according to George, was quite as thrilling as travel. All the more pity for him, then, that in the movie he never quite got to do it. Oh come on, that’s not a spoiler. It was made in 1946. You’ve had your chance.

Anyway, if you’re of similar mind to George, well, continued commiserations during this restrained start of 2021. I’m starting to feel a little itchy of feet myself. Restless. Were these walls always this close? And going by the headlines involving lockdown fatigue, sleeplessness and poor mental health, we aren’t alone.

So I was heartened to re-read this week some good news from earlier in the year, buried in the wider malaise.

The SMMT announcement of new sports car in 1992 didn’t bear fruit. car registrations for 2020 made for fairly dismal reading if you’re in the industry, because sales fell last year by 29.4% compared with 2019.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a problem in itself; I’ve often thought that, from an environmental perspective, using the cars we already own for longer and slowing down the rate of replacement would be a good thing for the planet.

Bad if your business is selling cars, it’s true. But if, say, toaster sales were down by a third last year (although this I doubt, given the surety that home-lunching increased exponentially), would that be awful for anyone except the toaster industry? If toaster sales found a new, lower level, ultimately we would probably learn to think that was fine.

But within what was very bad news for the car business lay that one little nugget of hope, not just for the industry but for all of us. Demand for cars fell, and fell big, across every single market segment last year, except one: ‘specialist sports’.

Yes, the market of small sports cars – cars designed, engineered and made for those who simply like driving – grew 7%, during a year when most of us barely drove at all. I usually cover the best part of 60,000 miles a year but suspect last year I did 10,000. My retired but active parents have worked out their car has done barely more than 1000 since March.

Yet, in a new car market down to 1.63 million (a 680,076 fall on the year before), in a country where millions were furloughed, hundreds of thousands were made redundant and travel was restricted to bare essentials, those who could still did. They bought more specialist sports cars than ever before.

How tremendously heartening this is. A nation of George Baileys for whom travel is the thrill itself. Who, even when told that they can’t get out and enjoy much, got out and enjoyed things as much as they were able.

At the start of 2020, “anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles” wouldn’t have resonated quite like they did 74 years previously. I never felt cruise ships, budget airlines or commuter trains were all that glamorous. But I feel differently at the start of 2021, and those three things are back on the exciting list, along with one other: the firing up of a sports car.


Updated: What does the lockdown mean for UK motorists? 

How to maintain your car during the lockdown 

Inside the industry: Car sales and the Covid effect



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